As Nick Martinez strode toward the mound Sunday afternoon, most of the 43,671 fans at Globe Life Park and the 30-plus club personnel in the home team’s dugout were holding their breath.
No one, not even Martinez, was exactly sure how far he could take his team in his third spot start of the season, though this one came with the knowledge that he is a member of the Texas Rangers’ ragtag starting rotation.
Five innings and one run later, the right-hander had done his best work of the season. Four innings after that, the Rangers had a 6-2 victory that snapped a four-game losing streak and sent them into an off day not worrying about the miserable week they had had and not dreading what lies ahead.
Last week was about as bad as things can get for a team. Forty percent of the rotation was lost for the season as Matt Harrison’s back gave out and as Martin Perez scheduled Tommy John surgery for Monday.
Even iron man Prince Fielder was forced off the field by a herniated disk in his neck.
But in a season full of injuries and with the ridiculous notion still floating around that an evil curse is creeping out of Nolan Ryan’s old left-field office, Martinez has been a blessing.
“He played as a player, so he’s not fazed by much, and he’s got good stuff and he knows how to use it,” manager Ron Washington said of Martinez, an infielder in college.
“Each time he takes the ball it’s an experience for him, but he knew where we were today. When he left the game, we were in the game, and that’s what we wanted him to do today.”
Martinez wasn’t the winning pitcher, though he left with a 2-1 lead. In fact, Martinez hasn’t won any of the eight games in which he has appeared, but the 21-23 Rangers are 5-3 when he pitches.
It’s fairly remarkable stuff considering that Martinez spent almost all of last season in High A Myrtle Beach and only the final month at Double A Frisco, covering a mere 32 innings.
Most Rangers fans had no idea who Martinez was when he was named to the Opening Day rotation as Yu Darvish headed to the disabled list.
Martinez’s short bio is on Page 376 of the Rangers’ 420-page media guide.
“He’s been great,” veteran reliever Jason Frasor said.
Frasor loves how Martinez, whose past five outings had been in relief, locates his fastball, usually down, and how he has avoided running into a big inning. Though young, at 23, and inexperienced, Martinez’s poise has been a pleasant surprise.
“He’s not 19,” Frasor said. “Who’s to say a 23-year-old can’t do it? He knows what he’s doing. He really is under control, and he’s not overwhelmed. He goes pitch to pitch and doesn’t let a tough circumstance snowball into a big inning.”
Things could have hit the fan in the second inning, when Adam Lind opened with a double and Edwin Encarnacion followed with a walk. The Blue Jays didn’t score.
Martinez, with his pitch count in the low 70s, opened the fifth with a four-pitch walk to No. 9 hitter Anthony Gose. A caught stealing and a popup led to two quick outs, but a single by Melky Cabrera brought up the fearsome Jose Bautista.
Martinez got the slugger to ground out to first. After 84 pitches, Martinez was done.
“Surprisingly, I felt well,” said Martinez, who allowed a fourth-inning homer to Juan Francisco for the only run against him. “My velocity didn’t drop. The plan today was just to go out and give this team a chance to win, and we did that and finished strong.”
Aaron Poreda (2-0) allowed a run in the sixth but pitched around a two-out double for a scoreless seventh. Mitch Moreland delivered a two-run homer in the seventh, and the Rangers added two more in the eighth to snap a six-game losing streak to the Blue Jays.
The offense, which included a two-run triple by Rios in the fourth, was badly needed, but the Rangers needed to see something positive from Martinez. He’s a full-fledged member of their rotation now, and he’s been a blessing so far this season.
Not bad for 23-year-old from Double A. Some folks might still be surprised by his performance, but not him.
“I’ve gotten over that,” Martinez said. “I’m up here, and I’m just worried about getting these guys out.”